Academic Discourses on African Postcolonial Literature in the Past 20 Years

An Annotated Bibliography

Project Report 2012 19 Pages

Literature - Africa


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Introductions to and Overviews of African Literature

3. Genres in African Literature
5.1 The African Novel
5.2 African Poetry

4. African Literature as a Subject of Literary and Cultural Studies
4.1 African Literary Theories
4.2 Weaknesses of Postcolonial Theory in the Context of African Writing
4.2.1 Patronage and the Cultural Binary
4.2.2 Problems Related to Eurocentric Criticism of African Literature
4.3 Suggested Solutions

5. Questions of Language
5.1 Language in African Writing
5.2 Oral Forms of Literature

6. New Directions in African Literature
6.1 Female African Writers and Issues of Gender
6.2 Globalization and Postcolonialism
6.3 African Literature in the 21st Century

7. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The academic discourse on African postcolonial literature is characterized by a continuous process of debates on a variety of issues, reassessments of theories and redefinitions of terms. The term African postcolonial literature refers to writings produced after the political independence of various African states which were formerly subject to European colonial rule. Most of this literature written by African authors in their home countries or in diaspora deals with issues of colonial experience or decolonization. However, as Graham Huggan points out, the term African literature is a problematic concept, because “it conveys a fiction of homogeneity”1 and ignores the cultural variety existing on the African continent.

Gikandi explains that the foundations of modern African literature have been laid by the process of colonization, e.g through education in Christian schools which have enabled today’s forms of literature. Gikandi emphasizes the irony of this fact: “[W]hile the majority of African writers were the products of colonial institutions, they turned to writing to oppose colonialism.”2 This leads to various problems when dealing with African writings, especially when applying the viewpoint of postcolonial criticism, which has been trying to theorize African writings since the 1980s. As Huggan points out, postcolonial criticism has been criticized “as subscribing to the very binaries (e.g. ‘Europe and its Others’) it seeks to resist.”3

This paper contains an annotated bibliography4 which considers various issues regarding African postcolonial literature that have been discussed in the past 20 years.5 Here, the term African postcolonial literature is understood in a temporal way (referring to the postcolonial era in Africa) and in an academic way (referring to the postcolonial discourse). The articles, collections of essays and monographs listed in the bibliography only provide glimpses at the extensive and elaborate discourses on African postcolonial writings. However, the entries in the bibliography have been categorized in order to cast a light on the main issues and problems discussed in this field. In the following, introductory works and texts dealing with the two main genres of African literature will be presented first. Works referring to postcolonial theory and consequential problems and debates (e.g. on language) take the major part of the bibliography. The last part refers to more recent debates such as female writing and issues of globalization. This way, the discussions about some of the difficulties already hinted at are reflected in the bibliography. From the intersections between the different thematic categories, it will become clear that African literature must be discussed in a multiperspective and interdisciplinary way.

2. Introductions to and Overviews of African Literature

Gikandi, Simon, ed. Encyclopedia of African Literature. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.

In the introduction to the encyclopedia, Gikandi briefly outlines the development of African literature, especially during the period of decolonization from the 1950s onwards. He hints at the problems of writing a comprehensive collection of African literature as there are multiple traditions on the African continent. According to Gikandi, his encyclopedia intends to mirror this diversity, but also recognize common ideas to “provide a comprehensive body of knowledge on African literature from the earliest times to the present” (xii). The encyclopedia contains about 700 entries, which deal, among other things, with writings in African languages.

O’Reilly, Christopher. Post-Colonial Literature. Cambridge Contexts in Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. Print.

In a chapter on approaches to postcolonial writing in Africa, O’Reilly describes the historical and cultural context of African literature and emphasizes the ethnic diversity on the African continent. He gives an overview of the history of colonization and examines European attitudes towards Africa as well as the role of Christian missionaries (30). According to O’Reilly, the main aim of modern African writing in English is to “dismantle the powerful myths about African inferiority” (32). He names Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o as the three most famous African writers.

Griffiths, Gareth. African Literatures in English. East and West. Harlow: Pearson, 2000. Print.

Griffiths’s overview of African writing is restricted to literature in English. He describes the development of East and West African English writing from the 18th to the 20th century and tries to explore the influence of Western patronage (e.g. through missionaries and secular education) on African literature. Admitting that his approach might seem arbitrary, he tries to identify themes and patterns in African English writing such as disillusionment, resistance, decolonization and internal conflicts (1). In his introduction, Griffiths indicates his intention to point to voices which have been neglected in criticism so far, e.g. minority voices from non- Anglophone countries, women’s voices and recent transcultural voices (2).

One more collection of essays dealing with English-language fiction from different parts of Africa can be found in:

Owomoyela, Oyekan, ed. A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1993. Print.

3. Genres in African Literature

3.1 The African Novel

Irele, Abiola, ed. African Novel. The Cambridge Companion to the African Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.

This collection of essays covers African novels written in European languages and Arabic. The essays focus on works which are considered part of the canon of African literature (e.g. Chinua Achebe) or can be expected to do so.

Griswold, Wendy. Bearing Witness. Readers, Writers, and the Novel in Nigeria. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000. Print.

Griswold explains that there exist many Nigerian novelists with a large readership, but the publishers and most readers are from abroad. Griswold argues that “cultural construction [i]s a process that is simultaneously global and local” (4). In this context, she wants to explore how Nigerian writers have picked up the English novel. She analyzes the Nigerian literary complex and its relation to postcolonial society.


1 Graham Huggan. The Postcolonial Exotic. Marketing the Margins. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. 34.

2 Simon Gikandi, ed. Encyclopedia of African Literature. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2003. xi.

3 Huggan, The Postcolonial, 3.

4 To make the text more readable, the bibliographic references will be printed in bold.

5 The focus on the past 20 years is necessary since a more comprehensive view on the topic would go beyond the scope of this work.


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academic discourses african postcolonial literature past years annotated bibliography



Title: Academic Discourses on African Postcolonial Literature in the Past 20 Years